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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Cities of Vortigern > Old Carlisle

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The 'Cities' of Vortigern
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Old Carlisle
Robert Vermaat

old maps
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Old Carlisle

Caer Guorthegirn
Roman Fort
Good access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Nearest town: Carlisle
Nearest village: Wigton
Map reference:
NY 2546
Location of Old Carlisle by UK Streetmap

This variant version of 'Vortigern's City' is found in the extreme north of Roman Britain. The usual story, as with all the so-called Çities of Vortigern', is reported in the Historia Brittonum, by 'Nennius':

Historia Brittonum, chapter 42

Then the king assigned him that city, with all the western provinces of Britain; and departing with his wise men to the sinistral district, he arrived in the region named Gueneri, where he built a city which, according to his name, was called Cair Guorthegirn.


et arcem dedit illi cum omnibus regnis occidentalis plagae brittanniae et ipse cum magis suis ad sinistralem plagam peruenit et usque ad regionem, qua uocatur guunnessi, adfuit et urbem ibi, quae uocatur suo nomine cair guorthigirn, aedificauit.

This regio Guunessi is usually identified with the Lleyn peinsula in north Wales, no doubt to explain the dealings of Vortigern in the Lleyn peninsula (Nant Gwrtheyrn). However, at least some commentators took it to mean 'the north of Britain'.

An interpolation in chapter 42 in the 'Cambridge group' of the Historia Brittonum (CCCC 139 folio 75r) tells us a different location. Here, in the lower margin beneath the left-hand column, an unknown scribe around 1200 commented on the regio Guunessi: "He (i.e. Vortigern) then built

.. Guasmoric across Carlisle, a city which in English is Palmecastre.

.. Guasmoric iuxta Lugubaliam idi edificauit urbem [scilicet] que anglice Palmecastre dicitur.

This was of course completely different from the Lleyn peninsula in Gwynedd, where this regio is usually situated. Lugubaliam is of course the Roman Luguvallium, which is modern Carlisle. Palmecastre is the name of an inclosure in the parish of Westward, containing an area of 150 acres, within which a Roman station was situated. The place is indeed iuxta [across] Luguvallium. In fact, the modern name is Old Carlisle, and lies one mile south of Wigton, on the Roman road from Carlisle to Cockermouth.

Map of Old CarlisleThe Roman Fort

The fort of 1.8 ha. was once called Maglona or Magis, which are both mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum as Maglone and Magis. If the identification with Maglona is secure, it was garrisoned by the Ala Augusta Gallorum Proculeiana (a cavalry regiment from the late 2nd - mid 3rd century) and possibly the Numerus Solensium (late 4th century). An Ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata which is also recorded here may be a synonym for Ala Augusta Gallorum as the fort was only large enough for one quingenary unit (500 horses strong). Most of this information was obtained from ploughed-up inscriptions, amongst one from an altar, which provided the name of the inhabitants of the local settlement, who called themselves the vik(ani) Mag(lonenses) in the mid-third century. Where the name Guasmoric come from is not claer. Gwas- can be translated with 'place' or 'residence'. Moric could come from Mouric or Meurig, which may be a Welsh rendering of Marius or Mauricius, which are both Roman names. Was this the name of the family that controlled the place after the Romans left? Alternatively, I could see a misspelling of Magis lead to something like 'Marius'. This was indeed the name of the king probably invented by geoffrey of Monmouth, of whom he reports that he gave his name to Westmoreland (Westmari(a)landa or Westmaria). In the Welsh translations of Geoffrey, Marius becomes Meurig, and we may have an early indication here of a tradition that Old carlisle was once regarded as the seat of King Meurig. However, Meurig is also a common Welsh name, which means we'll never be sure.

A Caer Guortigirn?

Is Old Carlisle really a candidate for a Caer Guorthigirn? Hardly. Though I would not say it is impossible, whatever that's worth of course, that we have no tradition of Vortigern that far north. The interpolation aside, I think that by Gueneri Gwent or southeast Wales is meant instead of Cumbria. However, for the sake of completeness I would not cast Old Carlisle aside. After all, no excavation has yet taken place of either fort or settlement which could determine the lenght of the occupation.

Visiting Old Carlisle

Take the A595 for 10 miles out of Carlisle and look for, but do not take the B5305 to the town of Wigton. Take the first turn right after that sign, and follow a minor road signposted 'Wigton 1½' and stop at the farm on the left. The fort lies two fields behind the farm. Alternatively, you can view it from the road two miles from the junction, as shown in the picture.

The site can be a little disappointing; no stonework is visible, but the fort ditches and the mound covering the stone walls and earth rampart are superbly preserved on the west and west part of the south sides.

The remains of Old Carlisle

The causeways leading to the east and south gates are also very bold, but there has been much disturbance on the north. The extensive area between the fort and the A595, showing many humps, bumps and ridges, belongs to the civilian settlement (see top image) of the Maglonenses.


  • Bartrum, P.C. (1993): A Welsh Classical Dictionary, People in History and Legend up to about AD 1000, (The National Library of Wales, Cardiff).*
  • Dumville, David N. (1977b): Celtic-Latin texts in northern England, c.1150-1250, in: Celtica 12, pp. 19-49.*
  • Higham, N. and Jones, B. (1985): The Carvetii, (Gloucester).
  • Jones, Barri and David Mattingly (1990): An Atlas of Roman Britain, (Frome).*
  • Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris, History from the Sources VIII, (Chichester 1980).*
  • Wilson, Roger J.A. (1975): A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, (London repr. 1996).*

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